Managing wireless wishes
THE MESSAGE THAT wireless is the future has made its way through the corporate
ranks. Employees want the Internet delivered to cell phones. The sales staff wants the
company to spring for Palm VIIs and then develop sales-specific applications. The board
wants to know when the company will deploy wireless applications across the
Many companies have caught the wave and do have plans to roll out wireless devices
and applications. But even though the wireless question du jour is "When?" not every
CTO is belting out, "Tomorrow."
Other questions surface: How will wireless protocols shake out? What does it cost
to support this rapidly changing technology? Would the company be using IT resources to
develop a business-oriented tool or a toy that allows employees untethered access to
sports scores, stock quotes, and jokes?
"The challenge in an IT company is that so many high-tech individuals love to
explore [new technologies]. That shuts down productivity," says Larry Reback, president
and CEO of GuideComm Systems, a communication service provider, in Herndon, Va.
Reback and others offer suggestions for handling wireless requests.
Keep it real. Reback constantly communicates to staff the company's technical plans
and goals. "When an IT person wants to implement something new, I ask: 'How does that
map into the top priorities? How does it fit? How does it allow us to accelerate our
goals?' He or she has to show how it will help. It can't be just a toy," Reback
Take baby steps. Allan Frank, president and CTO of AnswerThink Consulting Group, an
e-business solutions provider in Conshohocken, Pa., has a slightly different take on
the wireless buzz. "Don't fight it. Take the 'salami tactic,' " he says. Manage those
requests for wireless "toys" and suggestions for new applications "one slice at a
time." This helps IT avoid feeling pressured and overwhelmed by requests that they just
cannot respond to affirmatively, Frank says.
"The tendency," Frank says, "is for managers to feel reactive and defensive: 'No,
you can't have wireless. We haven't figured it out,' [or] 'Fine, I have all the time in
the world.' " Relax, he says, you don't have to give an answer immediately.
Look for patterns. Reviewing the company's purchasing patterns helps Frank see the
bigger picture. He is especially interested in requests that don't meet standard
purchases. Frank doesn't immediately buy in to every purchase request or every
suggestion for a new wireless application. Sometimes he just waits and wonders whether
there is a new technical angle or purchasing pattern emerging and how it could help the
Develop buy-in. Joe Owczarzak, director of corporate MIS at Hines Lumber, in
Buffalo Grove, Ill., has plans to go wireless as soon as he can. But there is a paradox
when it comes to any technology directives for Owczarzak. "The lumber inndustry is the
last group to automate themselves," he says.
Still, a change in attitude has permeated the troops at Hines Lumber. Managers are
excited about its ongoing Internet initiative. Because of this, Owczarzak has developed
buy-in for a plan to deploy personal assistant devices to the sales force -- a good
return on investment, the MIS director believes.
Don't write off wireless. "Toy" was Owczarzak's first thought on PDAs, but a
colleague who owned one swayed him. "As an organizer, using a PDA is very favorable to
record expenses, contact information, [and] scheduling to-dos," says the MIS director.
But he believes wireless still has some way to go. Having Internet-to-wireless is too
expensive and slow, Owczarzak says. In that aspect, IT might be supporting an expensive
Moving forward without analyzing how a wireless technology will help the company
will bring unsound results, Reback says. "If you just buy the tools, your office will
match my basement -- with all that unused woodworking gear."
* IDC estimates that the mobile
enterprise application market will hit $150 billion in 2003, up from the 1999 estimate
of $50 billion.
* A recent survey of corporate executives by
Madison, Wis.-based Esker, a host access and legacy extension solutions vendor, found
that over half the companies with plans to develop Web applications incorporating host
data will eventually extend those applications to wiireless devices.
assistants) will be free or subsidized by the end of 2003.